Newly surfaced island in Bay of Bengal
It is estimated that more than 8 lakh Rohingya, who fled an army crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine Province in 2016, live in the camps at Cox’s Bazar in unhygienic conditions.
- Bhasan Char, the site where Bangladesh has begun sending Rohingya refugees from the overcrowded camps at Cox’s Bazar, is an island formed by sedimentation (char – sediment, in Bengali) close to the coast.
- The plan has been in the making since 2017, which was a temporary plan initially. Those relocated to the island would not be allowed to leave from there unless they are going back to Myanmar. The decision has evoked international concern.
What’s on Bhasan Char?
- Bhasan Char is less an island and more mud flat, and is vulnerable to going under water from tides and flooding.
- Much of it is submerged during the monsoon. Located near the mouth of the river Meghna where it flows into the Bay of Bengal, Bhasan Char surfaced only in 2006 from the sediment deposited by the river. A Google Earth view shows part of its sedimentation under water.
- Located close to the much larger Sandwip, Bhasan Char spans 40 sq km. The government has built shelters, hospitals and masjids. Construction of the concrete accommodation began in November 2017 at an estimated cost of 23.12 billion taka ($272 million).
- The people relocated to the island can engage in farming and livestock breeding, but will not be able to “transact money” as Bangladesh is yet to officially recognise them as refugees and refers to them only as “stateless” people.
- Google Earth images show rows of red-roofed barrack-like structures on the island. It also has a helipad. Some fishing boats are visible, but the island is otherwise uninhabited.
- Ill-planned relocation, and relocations without the consent of the refugees concerned, have the potential to create a new crisis.
Myanmar & Rohingya
- Myanmar, which does not recognise Rohingya as an indigenous group and refers to them only as Bengalis, has not reacted to the relocation to Bhasan Char.
- Two years ago, Myanmar had reluctantly agreed to take back some Rohingya, but hardly any went back.